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Probe Ministries > Archives > Civil Discourse?

Civil Discourse? Print E-mail

Written by Rusty Wright

Ever get tired of TV talking heads yelling at each other? Are you exhausted or disgusted with debates and discussions that become food fights? Lanny Davis, President Bill Clinton's Special Counsel and scandal spokesperson, has written an important book with sound advice for putting the civil back into civil discourse. He confesses his own past participation in the "Gotcha!" culture.

Politics, religion, sex, or sports can ignite passion that can spill into incivility—on radio and TV, in workplaces, universities, neighborhoods, and families. Wouldn't it be nicer—and more productive—to disagree without being disagreeable?

Davis, who served in the Clinton White House, is a prominent Washington attorney and now-ubiquitous television figure. Some folks consider Bill and Hillary Clinton to be Mr. and Mrs. Antichrist. If you do, may I ask you to please segment your emotions about the Clintons momentarily to consider their former coworker's passionate appeal for civility in public dialogue?

"Gotcha!" Culture

A liberal Democrat, Davis authored Scandal: How "Gotcha" Politics is Destroying America.{1} He says, "The politics of healthy debate have been replaced by the politics of personal destruction, and the media, politicians, lawyers, and the Internet revolution are all complicit, as are the American people who reward the politicians and consume the media."{2}

With admirable transparency, he admits concerning parts of his past, "I am ashamed to say all this today—but I was just as much caught up in the gotcha culture as partisans on the Republican right."{3} He regrets having jumped into "food fight TV" on occasion {4} and admits to some past blindness to politically expedient hypocrisy.{5}

Davis often seeks to build bridges. During the 1992 Democratic National Convention, Pennsylvania Governor Robert Casey had been barred from delivering an anti-abortion, pro-life speech to the convention. Davis, who is pro-choice, asked some of his fellow liberal delegates to join him in a resolution to allow Casey to speak, in the name of freedom of expression and tolerance of dissent. Alas, he was shouted down.{6}

In 2000, his longtime friend Senator Joseph Lieberman—Democratic vice presidential candidate and an orthodox Jew—garnered liberal criticism for bringing up God too much. Reflecting on a famous Abraham Lincoln speech invoking divine assistance and encouraging prayer, Lanny wondered, "Would my liberal friends have regarded Abraham Lincoln as bringing up God too much?"{7} He decries intolerance and contempt or disrespect for the deeply religious and those who believe in the power of prayer.{8}

Do Unto Others...

At the 2006 National Prayer Breakfast, rock star Bono—advocating bipartisan cooperation to fight poverty—cited Jesus' statement, "Do to others as you would have them do to you."{9} You cannot believe in Bono's words, comments Davis, without being tolerant of those whose religious faith leads them to political views vastly different from that of a pro-choice Democrat.{10}

May his tribe increase. Consider three suggestions for cultivating civility:

Learn about views different from your own. Read what others believe and ascertain why they feel and think as they do. Ask yourself how you might feel in their situation.
Discover Common Ground. Starting where you agree can help overcome many emotional barriers.
Befriend people with differing views. Friendly conversation or shared meals can help open hearts. Conservatives, take a liberal to lunch, and vice versa.

Paul, an early follower of Jesus, had good advice on how to deal with those who differ. It applies in many contexts. He wrote:

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.{11}

Copyright 2007 Rusty Wright


1. Lanny Davis, Scandal: How "Gotcha" Politics is Destroying America (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006).
2. Ibid., 199.
3. Ibid., 188.
4. Ibid., 88.
5. Ibid., 125-126.
6. Ibid., 211-212.
7. Ibid., 212.
8. Ibid., 214.
9. Luke 6:31 NIV.
10. Davis, op. cit., 213.
11. Colossians 4:5-6 NIV.

© 2007 Probe Ministries

About the Author

Rusty Wright, former associate speaker and writer with Probe Ministries, is an international lecturer, award-winning author, and journalist who has spoken on six continents. He holds Bachelor of Science (psychology) and Master of Theology degrees from Duke and Oxford universities, respectively.

What is Probe?

Probe Ministries is a non-profit ministry whose mission is to assist the church in renewing the minds of believers with a Christian worldview and to equip the church to engage the world for Christ. Probe fulfills this mission through our Mind Games conferences for youth and adults, our 3-minute daily radio program, and our extensive Web site at

Further information about Probe's materials and ministry may be obtained by contacting us at:

Probe Ministries
2001 W. Plano Parkway, Suite 2000
Plano TX 75075
(972) 941-4565

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